New Methods To See Wetland Plant Roots in Action


Wetlands store a substantial amount of carbon in deposits of deep soil organic matter and play an important role in global fluxes of carbon dioxide and methane. Fine roots active in water and nutrient uptake are recognized as important components of biogeochemical cycles in nutrient-limited wetland ecosystems. However, quantification of fine-root dynamics in wetlands has generally been limited to destructive approaches. Minirhizotrons, cameras that enable non-destructive viewing of plant roots through clear tubes permanently inserted into the soil, have now been adapted for use in wetland ecosystems. An Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led methodology workshop examined a number of potential solutions for the challenges associated with the deployment of minirhizotron technology in wetlands, including minirhizotron installation and anchorage, capture and analysis of minirhizotron images, and upscaling of minirhizotron data for analysis of biogeochemical pools and parameterization of land-surface models. The authors conclude that despite their limitations, minirhizotrons provide critical information on relatively understudied fine-root dynamics in wetlands needed to advance our knowledge of ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling in these globally important ecosystems.


Iversen, C. M., M. T. Murphy, M. F. Allen, J. Childs, D. M. Eissenstat, E. A. Lilleskov, T. M. Sarjala, V. L. Sloan, and P. F. Sullivan. 2011. “Advancing the Use of Minirhizotrons in Wetlands,” Plant and Soil, DOI 10.1007/s11104-011-0953-1.